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Materials

287: Enzyme-based recyclable plastic

Problem:

Current plastics recycling processes are primarily thermo-mechanical which limits their recyclability.

Solution:

In 2012, Marie-Laure Desrousseaux, a researcher in specialized enzyme technology, brought together a team including Alain Marty of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) to investigate using enzymatic technologies for the recovery of plastic waste.

Research in this area was influenced by work on plastic-eating bugs at a Japanese dump. The bacterium had naturally evolved to eat plastic, and scientists worked to identify the key enzyme which existed in the bacterium, allowing it to break down plastic.

Within the framework of the Thanaplast consortium, they innovated an enzymatic technology enabling the specific de-polymerization of a single polymer (e.g. PET) contained in the various plastics to be recycled.  The PET is placed in a bioreactor, where water and enzymes are added to the waste, which is then heated and churned. At the end of this stage, the monomer or monomers resulting from the de-polymerization process are purified, with the objective to re-polymerize them, thus enabling a recycling process to infinity.

A company called Carbios was set up at the Biopôle Clermont-Limagne (France’s “Chemical Valley”) in Saint-Beauzire in the Puy-de-Dôme department in Auvergne in central France.

In February 2019, after nine years’ R&D in collaboration with Toulouse Biotechnology Institute (TBI), Carbios achieved a world first by converting PET plastic waste into its basic constituents at 98% in just 10 hours; a technology applicable to all kinds of PET bottles (clear, colored, opaque, complex).

32 patents were taken out worldwide, 13 of which are related to the bio-recycling technology. Carbios created the Carbiolice joint venture, in partnership with Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients and the SPI fund operated by Bpifrance. This company will produce the enzymatic granules.

In 2019, Carbolice was awarded the EuropaBio Prize for innovation. L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics company and Carbios signed an agreement to jointly found a consortium for the bio-recycling of plastic on industrial scale. An industrial demonstrator at Saint-Fons, south of Lyon, was scheduled to go into operation in 2021.

By 2025, L’Oreal is planning that 50% of the plastic used in their packaging will be recycled or bio-sourced. Nestlé Waters, Pepsico and Suntory Europe (Orangina-Schweppes) have joined a consortium with Carbios. (carbios.fr)

By linking two separate enzymes, scientists at the University of Portsmouth, UK have engineered a new super-enzyme which gets to work six times faster, with the capacity to allow mixed-fabric clothing to be recycled.

Discover Solution 288: SeaTwirl

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